Farmers gearing up for spring

Sarah Ladik/NNSL photo Jackie Milne, left, and Kim Rapati show off the shop space NFTI rented to build untis while waiting for the lease on the land outside of town to come through.

Sarah Ladik/NNSL photo
Jackie Milne, left, and Kim Rapati show off the shop space NFTI rented to build untis while waiting for the lease on the land outside of town to come through.

When the snow finally melts, this year’s new growth will include development on the Northern Farm Training Institute’s new campus at the old hog barn site.

Between labourers, clerical staff, managers and instructors, the Northern Farm Training Institute should be employing about 20 people this summer. A five-year lease with the possibility of a five-year extension has been granted by council and now all that’s left, according to organizers, is to wait for the snow to melt before beginning work on the site.

“This isn’t a flash in the pan thing,” said founder Jackie Milne. “We want people there from the beginning, we want to employ people full-time and train them, not bring in contractors to do everything.”

The institute is currently advertising for positions ranging from garden co-ordinator and bookkeeper to general labourers. Students coming in for courses this summer will also help build the site as part of the program, approximately 15 per month, according to Milne.

“In our first year, we spent all our money on capital stuff,” said Kim Rapati who now works full-time for the institute. “Now in our second year, we can spend money on hiring people.”

For Rapati, part of the problem with hiring contractors is that development doesn’t happen at what she termed a “human pace.” The idea behind the institute is to teach people how they can replicate garden and small-scale agriculture systems in their own communities, and bringing in heavy machinery and an outside company could defeat the purpose.

“We’re committed to our vision and the long-term benefits of this project, not just for the students, but for Hay River as a whole. NFTI is already going to employ about 20 people and those are real jobs.”

Some of those people are already working on building the modular units that will house equipment, bathrooms and kitchens to be installed on the newly-approved site, the delay for which Rapati said was something of a blessing in disguise.

“Not having the land forced us to be more flexible,” she said, explaining that the units had to be designed to move on skids. “Now we can install them, but change them and move them around later on if we need to.”

While the Town of Hay River — in accordance with an agreement from CanNor in exchange for funding the institute — did forgive cost of the lease, the organization will be paying full property taxes on it. Milne said the federal funding was contingent upon “significant support” from the municipality, and instead of shelling out dollars, CanNor agreed to accept an in-kind contribution of land.

“We wanted a lease … because we wanted it to really belong to the community,” she said.

To that end, the institute will be hosting a community brainstorming session April 15 to help plan the layout of the site.

“It’s always good to have fresh eyes on a project,” said Rapati. “And the more community input we can get on this, the better.”

–Sarah Ladik